Arabic calligraphy: Written by hand or type set on the computer.

What is the future of the Craftsmanship of the Arabic calligraphy?
Will new technologies in Arabic type setting bring an end to the craftsmanship?
What kind of new Arabic fonts do we need for the Arabic market?

I asked myself these three questions last week during an Arabic calligraphy workshop at NDU with Mr. Samir Haddad (Arabic Calligrapher) for the Graphic Design – Typography students. After the workshop I spoke for a while with Mr. Haddad about the techniques of the Arabic calligraphy and about its history. During our conversation we talked about the future of the craftsmanship. He said that he is worried about the future of the craft because computer fonts are getting more and more sophisticated and are able to mimic the calligrapher’s hand while the demand for original hand written calligraphy is dropping with time.

Mr. Haddad has an Arabic calligraphy studio in Lebanon and his clients are either graphic designers, typographers and type designers asking for a calligraphic sentence, word and letters, or couples wanting to do there wedding cards in a calligraphic writing and so on. His workflow at present time is negligible compared to his workflow and demand for Arabic hand written calligraphy in the past. Then he mentioned that there is a new software that is launched at the beginning of 2007 in Dubai and it is going to be in Lebanon and most of the Arab nations soon. And that this new software is going to affect his work even more because now typographers can easily use this software to get calligraphic Arabic writings without having to go to an Arabic calligrapher.

The new software that he mentioned and did not know its name is “Tasmeem”.
So I told him about this new software and about Thomas Milo. Thomas Milo is the creator of this software as well as the new Arabic calligraphic fonts available with it.


A handful of sample panes showing the Tasmeem Word Shaper at work

Screenshot of Qur’anic “end of aya”, the Ring Library and the Ring Design Too

To read more about Tasmeem and it’s features, you can visit the WinSoft website.

So I ask the question once more:
How can we preserve the Arabic Calligraphy craftsmanship while advancing in our Arabic type setting technology? Is there any solution or with time the Arabic calligraphy craft/art will eventually disappear like other crafts?


  1. Hey Pascal, your blog is extremely interesting in every part of it. I was at this workshop with Mr. Haddad and I thought about the same issues. I like to compare the arabic calligraphy to the Bible writings done by monks in the 15th century. Today latin typefaces got completely out of the “stroke” feel for instance, or other handmade effects and became completely experimental due to the computer (like emigre fonts for instance). I think in arabic the same thing should happen. Instead of mimicking this calligraphic/traditional style in today’s arabic computer generated typefaces, designers should go more experimental and try new approaches not based on the hand and stroke of the calligrapher, which is unique and cannot be imitated 100% by a computer. That way the cut would be clear between computer typefaces and the calligraphic traditional style that is unfortunately losing its importance. But then again, the market’s demands is leading to the loss of the craftsmenship value. Maybe I’m being too pessimistic but I think with time this arabic craftsmenship will end up disappearing for practicality purposes.

  2. Hello Maya.
    So you are one of the senior students at NDU.

    Nice to know that you are reading my posts on my blog.

    Well you got the idea which i was trying to convey.

    Let us hope that the craftsmanship will not disappear soon.
    It is more then Arabic type, it is Art.

    Unfortunately technology will take over one day.

  3. Hi Pascal,

    Send my best regards Samir Haddad. I would love to meet him. As you know, I admire real calligraphers – they are becoming a rare breed indeed. Get them involved in educating Arabic typographers now! – to complement the work of culturally alien design schools. That’s and urgent and valid business opportunity.

    If I understand Maya Zankoul’s observation correctly, then she hit the nail on the head. The 15th century saw typography take over the monks’ work. By complete analogy, the main activity of calligraphers, i.e., copying Korans, was wiped out by the Azhar publication of a typeset edition in 1924 later followed by Medina edition, manually cloning that typeface. As a result, not a single “consumer’s” Koran is produced by calligraphers anymore. That’s what marginalized the craft of Islamic calligraphy, not the dwindling wedding invitations. What remained then was drawing newspaper headlines, As you pick up today’s newspaper, you see immediately that it was desk-top publishing that finished off calligraphy, without even pretending to mimick it.

    Therefore to suggest that Tasmeem threatens the craft of calligraphy is not an accurate statement, to put it mildly. To the contrary, we hope that Tasmeem will contribute to the preservation of an important common cultural legacy that is getting far too little love in the world where it originated. While I take Samir Haddad’s remarks serious, I see them primarily as a compliment, and of course I do expect with him, that it will gain importance over time.

    As for Maya’s casual use of the expression “computer-generated typefaces”, I would like to stress that no such a thing exists – with the possible exception of Tasmeem. The reason is that all the Western educated Arabic designers work with complete, ready-made letters, so there’s nothing left for computers to generate. Tasmeem works with the construction elements of fonts, and combinatory rules. Therefore, what Tasmeem builds out of these elements could be considered computer generated typefaces indeed.

    Please note that the traditional scripts we analysed so far only served as proofs of concept. We are now working on computer-generated modern typefaces. We would love to work with people like yourselves to explore the possibilities in this field. As an extra bonus, the expertise of people like Samir Haddad would take on a whole new relevance.

    Please take a look at this footage, I hope it will convince you that there’s an enormous design potential once the traditional structures are understood and technically supported: (37Mb)

    Looking forward,


  4. Hello Thomas

    Thank you for your input on this post.
    & for the clarifications about your work and Tasmeem.

    I am looking forward for the next phase of Tasmeem and the new fonts.

    & if I can help in any way. I will be happy to.
    I will also inform Mr. Hadda about this post and get him envovled.

  5. Regards + Flowers to All,
    As Thomas Milo said:
    …. There’s an enormous design potential once the traditional structures are understood + technically supported. It does not threaten AC, it contributes…
    P.S AC = Arabic Calligraphy + AT = Typesetting
    _________To Pascal Zoghbi_________
    1. What is the future of the Craftsmanship of the AC?

    Neither Disappearing nor Dropping. It is Flowering:

    2. Will new technologies in AT bring an end to the craftsmanship?

    3. What kind of new Arabic fonts do we need for the Arabic market?

    4…typographers can easily use it … without having to go to calligrapher.

    Typographers with AC-practicing eyes. Not every typographer?!

    5. How can we preserve the AC while advancing in our AT?

    _________ To MayaZankoul _________
    designers should …. try new approaches not based on the hand….of calligrapher
    Ever seen these works at the bottom of this page?
    Technology will never take over…

    _________ To Thomas Milo_________
    1. Get them (calligraphers) involved in educating Arabic typographers now…
    …. how to use Winsoft Tasmeem manually?!

    2. not a single “consumer’s” Koran is produced by calligraphers anymore.
    Azhar and Medina are not they only publishers. See:

    3. Are the AC-Components same to that of Deco Naskh of PageMaker5.5ME?
    All the Best to All

  6. For Thomas:
    Here are two contacts of Arabic Calligraphers whom I know.

    Mr. Samir Haddad (Lebanese)
    00961 3 317 076
    00961 1 241 438

    Samir Sayegh (Lebanese)
    03 721 917

    Halim Saker (Lebanese)
    03 285 871

    Ms. Malak Atkeh (Serian)
    0093 955 611 406
    00963 933 263 193

    And when I meet new Arabic Calligraphers I will post there contacts also.

    • Hi Pascal,
      Thank you for such an amazing website. I am a Palestinian artist, based in Ramallah, and currently working on a project that is grounded on the history and development of Arabic text. I would like to consult with you. is it possible to email you directly?

  7. For AzizMostafa

    To answer your question:
    3. Are the AC-Components same to that of Deco Naskh of PageMaker5.5ME?

    This question confuses several matters.

    1 .DecoType Professional Naskh is PageMaker was nu AC, but an attempt to improve AT (= Arabic Typography)
    2. It was a gallant failure because PageMaker did not allow us to break away from the severe limitations imposed by the ooperating systems (OS) of the day.
    3. Tasmeem allows us to bypass OS limitations;
    4. Unlike DTP Naskh (DecoType Professional Naskh), Tasmeem Naskh is a completely different design using a small number of primitives and rules, and it is generated by ACE (Arabic Calligraphic Engine).
    5. the name ACE is misleading, because ACE is notdesigned to generate calligraphy. It’s just a nice acromym.
    6. Tasmeem hosts ACE, we have soon three script systems (intelligent fonts consisteng of primitives and rules) for it:
    a. Naskh – the typical Ottoman text style
    b. Emiri – a meticulous reconstruction of the metal typesetting used for the Caiiro Qur’ an
    and soon
    c. Ruqah – a completely new design based on the widespread Middle Eastern cursive.

    Others will follow suit.

    I hope that answers your question.


  8. Thanx Thomas in anticipation of more
    1. Does the ACE work together with usp*.dll or independently?
    2. Are Tasmeem Intelligent fonts of the OpenType? Or:
    3. Are they integrated with Tasmeem (built-in like that of
    4. Does Tasmeem depened on Indesign or can it be made as stand-alone application?
    Thanx once again with Flowers

  9. 1. No, though it is technically feasible. ACE was the proof of concept and prototype for this kind of libraries. MicroSoft had already licensed two early ACE-derivaties (dtruqah.exe and dtnaskh.exe)before OpenType and all that was even contemplated.
    2, ACE fonts use the OT font format for data and glyph storage, but they can not be controlled by usp*.dll and the likes.
    3. No. ACE fonts can theoretically run anywhere, but that depends on the willingness and openness of the owners of the OS.
    4. Tasmeem is a plug-in for IDME that calls ACE and provides a powerful user interface to make the enormous potential of Arabic script more accesible. As such, the ACE library and fonts can be built in anywhere.
    5. Thanks for the flowers!


  10. Tasmeem offers control over Letter+Word shaping…
    Dozens of alternative forms can be generated for each word…

    Is the distribution of text variations controlled by adding
    Kashid, swashing, and/or changing interword spaces?
    Tasmeem has a special tool for precision editing+typesetting?
    Vowels+dots can be adjusted independently from their letters.

    Will the text remain fine-tuned if formatting changes?
    Or fine-tuning has to be done repeatedly?
    Kerning : Manual or automatic?
    How is the tracking (connection) managed? Randomly
    as the bottom line of the last sample shows:
    Different Kashidas applied to the very word (Ata3na)?
    Thanks + Regards + More Flowers

  11. Q. “Is the distribution of text variations controlled by adding
    Kashid, swashing, and/or changing interword spaces?”

    Yes. In the TextShaper for each calligraphic parameter a distribution value can be set .

    Q. “Tasmeem has a special tool for precision editing+typesetting? Vowels+dots can be adjusted independently from their letters.”

    Yes. Changes can be made locally (WordShaper). Vowel and dot positions can be fine-tuned independently from the supporting letters.

    Q. “Will the text remain fine-tuned if formatting changes?
    Or fine-tuning has to be done repeatedly?”

    If the formatting changes, the tuning values remain until they are reset or changed – even if a non-ACE font is applied on the text. In that case the tuning effects become neutralized, but they reappear with any ACE font. The same is true for the Kashida mark-up (as distinct from hard encoded Tasweel).

    Q – “Kerning : Manual or automatic?”

    As for spacing controls, not just the hard-encoded interword spaces can be tunes, but also the internal word spaces can be tuned. The effect can be compared with tracking. ACE doe not provide kerning. But by selecting any group of syntagms (connected lettergroups), pseudo-kerning is possible with the spacing controls.

    Q – “How is the tracking (connection) managed? Randomly
    as the bottom line of the last sample shows:
    Different Kashidas applied to the very word (Ata3na)?”

    To call the use of kashidas TRACKING is thought-provoking. We haven’t looked at it that way. In my analysis the kashida is the primarily the Arabic equivalent of the Latin hyphen: a device to repair the typographical damage caused by line breaking. But, like tracking, it can also be used to change the overall appearance of text. However, since Tasmeem offers real tracking for Arabic, we consider Kashida an additional, uniquely Arabic device for the same purpose: changing the overall appearance of text. Tasmeem offers a special Arabic Typography Interface to distrinbute kashide (or any other calligraphic parameter) over a text.

    Unicode U+640 Tatweel will be processed, but it can also be converted to the Tasmeem-specific Arabic KASHIDA mark-up If converted, the hard Tatweel code is removed from the source text. Both hard (Tatweel) and soft (Kashida) elongations are processed selectively by Tasmeem: depending on the typeface they are executed or ignored (“trashide”) – without changing the source text.

    Thanks for the interesting questions!


  12. Annex regarding kerning:

    In our approach, any sequence of connected letters generates a unique and characteristic “syntagma”, or reading unit. These syntagmata are the minimum unit of graphic expression in Arabic. Kerning, if any, has to take place between syntagmata. But to create kerning tables is impractical, because their number is ıs too large and too unpredictable. Therefore we concentrated on developing tracking, which, in a way, is dynamic kerning of dynamically generated syntagmata.


  13. Thanks Thomas for the elaborated answer.
    But I am still confused.
    1… for each calligraphic parameter a distribution value can be set?!
    But that will bring about unwanted AC if applied to a paragraph
    or even to a single line of text?!
    Of course unless you go word-by-word?!

    2. Assuming Tasmeem is currently at what the Screenshot shows,
    How if the size of the ACE-font is enlarged or reduced?
    Will the corresponding tuning values change proportionally?

    3. Is word spacing — spaces between words— automatic?
    On the Paragraph level?
    All the Best + Flowers

  14. Dear Aziz,

    1… for each calligraphic parameter a distribution value can be set?!


    But that will bring about unwanted AC if applied to a paragraph
    or even to a single line of text?!


    Of course unless you go word-by-word?!


    2. Assuming Tasmeem is currently at what the Screenshot shows,


    How if the size of the ACE-font is enlarged or reduced?
    Will the corresponding tuning values change proportionally?


    3. Is word spacing — spaces between words— automatic?
    On the Paragraph level?




  15. Azizi Aziz,

    In Tasmeem, vowels are placed dynamically, but can be corrected locally if necessary. In the referred examples I left the vowels in their automatically assumed positions. I have not attempted to move them afterwards, something that is certainly possible in Tasmeem.

    Tasmeem has no fixed ark positions, instead it uses a concept of targets and approaching tactics.

    I agree with you that the positioning in this example is not optimal for large display usage, but I challenge any font technology to improve on this construction – given the complexity of the letter connections. In my opinion the result is good enough for normal typesetting purposes.

    wa s-salaamu l-qalbii,


  16. Laa skukra yaa Habiibii

    We are working hard to make this technology accessible for designers like yourself. Please bear with us.

    alf ward wa warda

  17. Sorry to tell Thomas that even if I could download the Beta version of Tasmeem, I wont be able to contribute to its developement since none of these is affordable to me:
    1. A powerful PC. I am still using PII with 128 RAM.
    2. IndesignCS3.0ME
    3. Tasmeem BetaTest.
    Apologies+Thanks with Flowers

  18. plz post a new link for download of “tasmeem” preferably and ftp account for testing and better comments.Thanks in advance

  19. I say teaching proper calligraphy at schools should be mandatory throughout Arabia, let it become part of our culture again, and develop future generations of natural calligraphers.

    There’s something magical about the process of calligraphy itself that demands it necessary to coontinue even if computers can mimic the outcome exactly. The spiritual therapy that calligraphy lends to its performer is something that cannot be digitally mimicked.

  20. Hello to all contributors,
    this discussion is very interesting. I actually become a media-designer (a new profession mixed of typesetter and web-designer) and am interested in the different development of both calligraphy and typography in the european region. I hope, arabic calligraphy will not take a similar course; becoming a mere leisuretime-occupation with the hope to be still accepted as an art, while typographic design is the pacesetter for development of forms and concepts for letters, script, and text.
    I am sure this will be spared to arabic calligraphy, because the artistic development after the second world war has got ahead of the european. I merely mention Hassan Massaoudy.
    So, I do not think there is any real danger of vanishing or becoming unimported for arabic calligraphy. I rather expect a concentration on some particular applications and an artistic advancement.
    Greetings, Andrea

  21. Help me, please, you are my last hope…
    The thing is, i´ve decided to get a tatoo with a short frase from the Holy Koran, I want it spelled on Naskh. I have found the page where the frase is but since I dont even speak arab I cant even tell wich part says the phrase I want.

    I would like the phrase “The life of this world is no more than an illusion.” written on Naskh, its from The Koran 3:185.

    I live in argentina, I wouldnt even know were to start looking for someone with this kind of knowledge…

    Thank you VERY MUCH!!

  22. This is all very fascinating. Hello Pascal you have started an important topic. Marhaba Aziz I missed your flowers on Fontphile and you certainly deserve a much better computer and software. Hello Milo I heard your name a lot before I actually understood what you have actually achieved. Congratulations Tasmeem is amazing.

    One way to answer worries that this software will replace calligraphers is to provide untraditional fonts – in the sense of their being new variations of modern lettering styles. In my life as an artist I have developed one or two such styles and I think they could be adapted to Tasmeem technology.

    Having said that I am wary of the trend Arabic ‘modern’ fonts are taking- for example having as a model the imitation of Latin letterforms. That is the wrong approach – Arabic is an incredibly supple script and can adapt itself to unique and beautiful new forms. Creativity and a critical eye are needed because not everything new will be good- it has to follow the spirit of traditional calligraphy.

  23. For the last two comments, first a quick answer:

    Here’s an example of the latest Tasmeem developments:
    In addition to the classical Naskh, there is
    1. Nassim Alef by Titus Nemeth
    2. Qarandash Beh by Mirjam Somers
    3. Mehdi by Saad Abulhab

    All these fonts are run by DecoType ACE. The text is spelled according to the 1924 Cairo Koran.

    Andrea, the top line is what you asked for in Naskh.
    Vladimir, the other lines show that modern typography and Tasmeem work fine together. Please contact me if you want to join the Tasmeem Typography Tsuname project.

    Kind regards,


    PS – Personally, I consider it an illusion to consider life an illusion.

  24. Sorry, not Andrea – the thought of it – but Fernando: you can now embellish your vain physical incarnation with Naskh.


  25. Hello Thomas I could see by the examples that simple glyphs can be used with Tasmeem – does that mean that Tasmeem provides ‘automatic’ kerning? that would be nice. What is the Tasmeem Tsuname Project? All the best.

  26. DecoType’s new Alef-Beh-Jeem template design method has three levels:

    Alef – This is the common denominator of all conventional fonts but already extended with swashes, alternations, separately moving attachments (dots and vowels), dynamic kerning, full Unicode support, Tasmeem compatibility and robust anti-piracy protection. The total of ACE-driven glyphs is 109.

    Beh – This is an important expansion of Alef with added integral coverage of the most difficult Arabic script issue: the “tooth” dissimilation and assimilation of generic beh-seen-sad (as well as final noon and yeh). Upgrading to the Beh level fundamentally improves legibility of Arabic type. The total of ACE-driven glyphs is 163.

    Jeem – This template provides exhaustive coverage of the cascading connections, on top of the full Beh treatment. It will make the 400 or so Unicode ligature presentation forms obsolete, because Jeem class fonts cover all cascading effects dynamically. Jeem is still under development but its characteristics can be seen in Tasmeem’s Naskh typeface.

    All templates have an additional set of 43 universal attachment glyphs (dots, vowels, etc.) with which every Arabic-based orthography covered by Unicode can be handled.

    DecoType uses the OpenType font format and therefore it is feasible to create amphibious fonts to operate in multiple environments by adding conventional glyphs and OT tables in the same typeface.

    Interested designers can contact DecoType.

    Tulip bulbs,


  27. Is that a new way? You bring out the best of my nutritious wicket I have a nice fresh joke for you people) Why did Robin Hood rob only the rich? Because the poor had no money.

  28. i will just have to add to all, that this site is really important and i take such pride for the work lebanese designers are doing all over the world.

    i just want to ask about more details of Mr. Hadad shop’s address. though i am in Bahrain but i would love to meet a true calligrapher soon.

    and for my opinion and from a personal experience, i say that the authenticity of the craftsmanship of the calligrapher has its own spirit that me myself don’t want to replace…

  29. mjwximnzepllfatjwell, hi admin adn people nice forum indeed. how’s life? hope it’s introduce branch ;)

  30. i think when calligraphy will be just a software, it will be without spirit, as any art without spirit and creativity, i guess this will be never happen. we can’t comuterize fine arts or music!

  31. ana bingung, pengen download banyak font arab yang bagus-bagus tapi kaga ngerti sebab banyak perintah download yang terlalu panjang….

  32. Salam,
    I hope this software launched at 2007 will increase popularity Arabic Calligraphy and will enhance the quality calligraphy as well.
    Good luck.

  33. Informative post, can’t say i agree with all of it but i think you’re shooting in the right direction. Keep up the good work. Pleasure to read as always! ;-)

  34. السلام عليكم
    أنا أبحث عن الخط العربي للقرآن مفقود جدا و أنا جد محتاجه
    Deco Type Professional Naskh Supplement4 kashidahs

    من له أرجو أن يعلمني بلإميل
    وأنا داعيا له إن شاء الله

  35. I am looking for someone who can help me put some calligraphy on a car. It’s a personal car so no logos, just words.

    I want to put a very creative Arabic typography design saying: ‘Mashallah’ on both sides of my car. One side in Arabic and the other side in English.

    Can you let me know if you can help or refer me to someone who can.

  36. Hello Pascal…this is Jane Austah from Jordan, I want to add another name to your arabic calligraphy list if you don’t mind 
    - Ihsan Hammouri

    He is God’s Good Gift of Creativity… I’m not kidding :-)
    Jane Austah

  37. I used to be suggested this blog by way of my cousin. I’m no longer sure whether this submit is written by means of him as nobody else recognise such particular approximately my difficulty. You are wonderful! Thank you!

  38. To Thomas Milo, I am interested to buy Tasmeem. Are you distributing this program in the USA, where is available? Who can buy it and where? What are the system requirements? Can I download a trial version of the program?

  39. >What kind of new Arabic fonts do we need for the Arabic market?

    I’m always dismayed by the number of new Arabic fonts that are inspired by Latin sans-serifs. Arabic typography has extraordinary potentials that are not possible with Latin types, but it also doesn’t lend itself well to some of the approaches that are used in Latin type design.

    When I look at ‘Western’ type design, I get excited by the work of designers like Ale Paul, who are exploiting the opportunites for glyph substitution in current type technologies that were originally developed to facilitate Arabic type design. Yet, ironically, many Sudtipos fonts have *more* glyph combinations than most commercial Arabic types. But maybe the things that we take for granted fail to inspire us?

    I’d love to see designers pushing this envelope even further. I look at the work of a calligrapher/artist like Nja Mahdaoui, and I see letterforms that make even Tasmeem’s capabilities seem like childs-play. What would it be like to go even beyond the intricacies of traditional khatt and do things with computers that even calligraphers never contemplated?

    I also think it is wrong to see this as needing to be typography-led. What about new scripts? For some time I’ve contemplated a hybrid between Diwani and Nastaliq, in the same way that Ijaza is a hybrid between Naskh and Thuluth. Wouldn’t it be interesting to develop letterforms that could be written *as well as* typeset?

  40. hello sir,the information you given about calligraphy is interesting.i am great fan of arabic calligraphy.

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  42. I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this website. I am hoping to see the same high-grade content by you in the future as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has encouraged me to get my own blog now ;)

  43. What you composed made a ton of sense. But, what about this?

    what if you wrote a catchier title? I mean, I don’t
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    attention? I mean Arabic calligraphy: Written by hand or type set on the computer.
    | 29LT BLOG | Arabic Type Design | Arabic Fonts | Arabic Typography & Graphic Design | is a little
    vanilla. You should peek at Yahoo’s home page and
    see how they create article headlines to grab people interested.
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    a little livelier.

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